Roome at the top at this year's CMYA event

11 November 2013

Public scrutiny, technical challenges and managing relationships were all in a day's work for BAM's CMYA winner Stephen Roome on the Council House project in Derby. Elaine Knutt reports. Photographs by Edward Tyler.

When construction Manager of the Year Stephen Roome was enjoying his Oscar moment at this year’s CMYA awards, he was cheered on by more than 40 BAM Construct colleagues. The block booking was explained by BAM’s six finalists

and final tally of two gold and two silver medals, but also by its reputation for nurturing talent over the long term.

Speaking to CM after the ceremony, Roome was quick to praise the company ethos. “BAM have got a lot of long-serving people, they’re a good people company. I’ve had plenty of other job offers, but I’ve always wanted to stay there,” he said.

Some of those job offers no doubt came in 2006, when Roome achieved his first CMYA gold medal as construction manager on Matthew Boulton College, now part of Birmingham Metropolitan University. But over a 25-year career BAM has clearly offered the challenges Roome craves: with a healthy level of ambition discernible under his relaxed, engaging manner, he says he saw the construction manager role on Derby’s £25m Council House project as a chance to experience that Oscar feeling again. His confidence has been vindicated.

The project was a technically challenging one, refurbishing a 1931 building and inserting a new build council chamber and other facilities into the original courtyard. That involved linking a 500-tonne steel frame to the existing frame, necessitating complex bespoke connections and unifying multiple changes of level. “Surveying every single connection took us three to four months and then the connections had to be designed individually,” he says. To assist in the task, Roome commissioned a 3D laser survey and digital model.

Then there was the challenge of supporting the building’s roof during the 12 weeks it would take to insert a new glazed facade, reconfiguring the services, dealing with inbound deliveries and outbound skips in a tight city centre site and accommodating £1.5m of client variations. Overall, he says, the challenge was reassuring the client and project manager Mace that the tight 68-week programme was achievable, and making sure the team was working properly.

“The client had to be able to install all their IT after 68 weeks – or people don’t get their housing benefit,” he says.

Hydro-electric power

The project is also a sustainability innovator, featuring a hydro-electric electricity system powered by the River Derwent that supplies a quarter
of the building’s power needs during the day, with the electricity generated at night, fed into the grid in return for a feed-in tariff.

The building also features river water cooling, with river water passing through a heat exchanger to cool input air during the summer. The river’s generosity as an energy source partly compensated for the difficulty of building so close to a high water table.

There are public sector projects, projects that take place under close public scrutiny, and projects that grab the public’s imagination. When modernising one of the east midlands’ best-known civic buildings, Roome was delivering all three. He was spending public money in the era of austerity, managing a project that could easily become a target for political point scoring, and re-inventing a building that he and his fellow citizens of Derby had all grown up with.

"The Council House was where you used to go past on the bus with your mum. I never thought I'd be the one to take it apart and rebuild it."

Stephen Roome

But Roome, a natural communicator, clearly had the measure of the task. He hosted around 40 official delegations to the site, made sure the local press were kept fully informed of each step in the process to diffuse potential for negative coverage, and Tweeted and Facebooked his way into the public’s goodwill.

“If you ask people about Derby, they know the Council House – it touches a lot of people’s lives,” he says. “So we had to do everything to demonstrate we were using public money efficiently and effectively – there was the risk that councillors from either side could have a go if they thought something wasn’t right. But at the end of the day, we showed every decision we made was justified.”

In addition, he created additional “social value” by deploying his team to help on two community centre refurbs, invited local primary school children to design the site hoardings and engaged with construction management students at
the University of Derby.

The end result, he says, is a calm, welcoming building that facilitates positive interaction between council staff and Derby residents. “All the council workers are smiling and happy, and you don’t get members of the public shouting and bawling. People appreciate a good building, they know when money’s been spent to deliver good quality,” he says.

Roome’s task to refurbish the 1931 Council House was technically and politically challenging

“It’s fantastic to build something in your home town. The Council House was where you used to go past on the bus with your mum. I never thought I’d be the one to take it apart and rebuild it.”

Roome grew up in Derby, and still lives there. The father of two studied construction management at Sheffield Polytechnic, immediately joining BAM as a graduate trainee site engineer and remaining loyal throughout his career.

Since the Council House was completed in 2012, he has worked on the initial stages of Birmingham’s £26m National Indoor Arena, and has since been office based, lending his expertise to ongoing tendering work.

In other words, he’s in the perfect place to receive a phone call offering him the next big challenge – and he admits he’s got his eye on a £100m plus project BAM is currently negotiating on.

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